No. 6 Wildcats too much to handle in rout of Oregon
TUCSON, Ariz. — Two months ago — even in victory — Arizona looked disjointed and unorthodox.
Now, in late January it looks like a well-oiled machine. Passes are crisp, defense is demanding and offensive is, well, sharp.
Wednesday it was all on display in Arizona’s 90-56 romp over Oregon in what Arizona coach Sean Miller said was one of his team’s more impressive wins this season.
How appropriate McKale Center was the scene of costume night for Arizona students, because the Wildcats came dressed as one of the best teams in the country for what turned out to be a full-fledged party.
Arizona’s offense flowed like the sound of an orchestra and the defense was as stubborn as a winter storm.
"I thought we shared the ball incredibly well," said Arizona senior leader T.J. McConnell, who was one of six Wildcats to score in double figures; he had 10 points while making all five of his shot attempts and distributing five assists without a turnover. "We were making shots, getting into the lane and kicking it out to open shooters.
"I don’t want to sound cocky, but I think we are unguardable when we (are) hitting outside shots, getting it into the lane and scoring … maybe I wouldn’t say unguardable, but pretty hard to guard."
Same difference. Translation: tough to beat.
Arizona, now 19-2 and 7-1 in the Pac-12 Conference, won its fifth consecutive game with a rematch against Oregon State set for Friday night. The Beavers handed Arizona its last loss, Jan. 11.
Arizona looks more prepared than ever, with its defense ramped up since then and its offense so strong it’s hard to say who is the most dangerous player.
Typically, it would be freshman Stanley Johnson. But it took him deep into the second half to score 12 points. Brandon Ashley had 13, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski each added 11.
Junior reserve guard Gabe York led the team with 16 points, including three 3-pointers and a conventional three-point play. York’s contribution stirred a massive 34-10 run to end the game.
"Gabe was instrumental in that run," Miller said, adding York had been suffering from an ankle injury. "It was good to see him play the way he did … I think he’s at a point now where he’s fully recovered. He looked like himself today, which is good for us."
Arizona came from all angles. Even 7-footer Dusan Ristic hit his second 3-pointer of the season.
"Arizona is a top-10 team for a reason," Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "They have three projected first-round picks and one in the second round (of the NBA Draft). They’re a talented team. They are very well coached and have a great atmosphere (in McKale). All of that makes them an elite program. Everyone strives to have great players, coaches and atmosphere."
All were on display on Wednesday night.
"When we’re all aggressive it only helps us," McConnell said. "If we play tentative like we did at Oregon State — we (don’t) play Arizona basketball. They made us pay. When we’re all aggressive it shows what kind of night we can have."
It started early and continued throughout the night. When Hollis-Jefferson hit a 15-foot jumper — a rarity for him — it was 22-13 and Arizona was well on its way to a runaway victory. It was later followed by a jumper by McConnell and a 3-pointer by Johnson. The rout was officially on.
Things got better in the second half, where Arizona had just one turnover and looked like a team that could be scary in March if the trend of improvement continues.
"Our defense at times was outstanding," Miller said. "For us to come out and play that type of basketball, I think that bodes well for our future."
Oregon did mount a last-ditch rally when it closed the game to within 10 at 56-46 with 12:56 to play. The Wildcats doused that with a 16-1 run over the next five minutes.
Oregon shot just 31 percent from the floor in the second half, with most every shot a tough one.
"That’s who we want to be," Miller said. "When you watch us player we want you to feel like we are a hard-playing, together team on defense."
Two guys were singled out: Hollis-Jefferson and McConnell.
"They set the tone for everybody else," Miller said.
And in the end, McConnell showed a rare sign of humor.
"I’m just here so I don’t get fined," McConnell said, mimicking Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch’s famous words for Super Bowl’s media day. "I’m just kidding."
That never would have worked two months ago. But with Arizona playing so well, it’s all fun and games these days.